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Jolly v. Eli Lilly & Co. - 44 Cal. 3d 1103, 245 Cal. Rptr. 658, 751 P.2d 923 (1988)

Rule:

Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff suspects or should suspect that her injury was caused by wrongdoing, that someone has done something wrong to her. 

Facts:

Plaintiff Christine M. Jolly was born in 1951. In 1972, she first learned that while she was in utero her mother had ingested the synthetic drug estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES) for the prevention of miscarriage. She was diagnosed as having adenosis, a precancerous condition that required careful monitoring. In 1976, she had an abnormal pap smear and underwent a dilation and curettage, a surgical procedure to remove abnormal tissue. In 1978, Jolly underwent a complete hysterectomy and a partial vaginectomy in order to remove malignancy. Starting in 1972, Jolly attempted to discover the manufacturer of the DES ingested by her mother. Efforts were increased in 1976 and 1978 when Jolly's condition became acute. Jolly believed that she had no cause of action if she could not identify the particular manufacturer of the drug. Because her efforts to identify that manufacturer were unsuccessful, Jolly did not file suit. However, in March 1980, the Supreme Court of California decided Sindell v. Abbot Laboratories, which held that if a plaintiff could not identify the precise drug manufacturer of the ingested DES, she could state a cause of action against the DES manufacturers that held a substantial percentage of the market share of the drug. Defendants would be liable, assuming the remaining material allegations in the complaint were proven, unless they could disprove their involvement. Almost one year after the Sindell decision, Jolly brought a personal injury action against defendants Eli Lilly & Co. and other drug manufacturers. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting the action was barred by Code Civ. Proc., § 340, subd. (3), the one-year statute of limitations for personal injury. Although conceding the applicability of the one-year statutory period, Jolly asserted that the statute did not commence until she learned of the Sindell decision. Jolly maintained that decision created a new cause of action by redefining "causation." The trial court granted defendants' motion and entered judgment in their favor. On appeal, the appellate court reversed. Defendants appealed.

Issue:

Was Jolly barred from filing suit?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court concluded that Jolly's suit was time barred. Jolly could not rely on the Sindell class action suit to toll the statute of limitations. The court reversed the judgment of the appellate court and remanded with instructions to affirm the trial court's judgment in favor of defendants.

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